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Why I don’t like using the term “Austerity”. This Guy.

July 16, 2015


Here we are, Stafford Cripps.   Not a man you’d want to have a drink with.  Nor he with you.  Along with  his fussy and abstemious ways, he had absolutely no sense of humour or small talk.  He could never ever ever under any circumstances whatsoever, be described as “one of the lads”.

His extremely posh voice was also rather grating.  In many ways, he was an exemplification of the self-description of Derek Jacobi’s patrician republican character in Gladiator, who never claimed to be a man of the people but who did attempt to be a man for the people.

As postwar Labour Chancellor, Cripps, more than any other politician, was associated with what used to be called “Austerity”.  This austerity consisted of fighting inflation, extensive rationing, improving the balance of trade by boosting exports and generally making sure the books looked nice and tidy.  It was a time of considerable privation, but (and this is a huge looming and decisive “but”) it was an ethic of private conducted on progressive rather than regressive principles.  Consumer spending was limited but nobody starved.  Meanwhile, a large scale social welfare programme was rolled out, the NHS was created, education provision reformed and extended and (in short) everything was done to protect the most vulnerable members of society while those who could afford to pay more – did.

And this was called “Austerity”.

You see why I don’t like modern usages of the term?  Twenty-first century “Austerity” treats economic crisis as an opportunity, does everything it can to protect the people whose greed and stupidity caused the economic crisis in the first place and ensures that the burden of paying for all this greed and stupidity falls on those who are most vulnerable.

The fact that these utterly opposed economic strategies have both been called “Austerity” is no mere embarrassing coincidence.  The present UK government has made shameless use of a kind of race memory of national collective effort in order to recreate a vague sense in which “we’re all in it together”.  Stafford Cripps is being appropriated even as he is being travestied.

“Austerity” is often used in concert with “belt-tightening” – with the implication that it must be good for us.  An austere diet that enables us to tighten our belts will result in us becoming fitter, healthier people. But without a sense of collective purpose and a progressive attitude to collective contribution, this metaphor is nonsense.  The people who binged most destructively in the period before the crash binge more heartily than ever before.  (It should be noted of course that the fattiest and least healthy food is generally the cheapest.)  And the people who are paying the proportionately the most during this travesty of “Austerity” are not becoming leaner and healthier .  Many of them are dying.

Fuel poverty kills people every year.  “Austerity” will kill rather more rather quicker.  For this reason, I don’t use the word “Austerity” which is intended to denote some absolute standard of privation that is shared by everyone, but I instead use the term “Austeriarchy” which describes a system of power,  a plutocratic transfer of resources and choices from the poor to the rich that is enabled by the opportunities that economic crisis provides.

I have another, preferred term for “belt-tightening” too.  It’s called “killing people”.


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